Page Two: Dangerous Demons
Why do we have to hate those with whom we disagree?
Attacking the motives of others is twisted in two profound ways. It makes them evil: It's not just that they have different ideas but that they actively want to do harm to others. The other is that by so attacking, you sanctify yourself: Presuming that you are "good" to their "evil," you anoint yourself and your beliefs with holiness.
This point of view does not argue for tempering disagreement in any way. Even far surpassing the idea of principled disagreement – to think or claim someone is stupid, ill-informed, lying, blatantly disregarding information, or being a demagogue, all in pursuit of ideological goals – is not to think that he or she is a villain determined to destroy anything we hold dear. Demonizing people allows us not just to dismiss their ideas but to murder them before they murder us.
Yugoslavia was the most independent and in many ways advanced of the Iron Curtain countries. After the Iron Curtain crumbled, it took no time at all, in relative terms, for long-dormant ethnic hatreds to be deliberately stirred up on all sides, leading to civil war and genocide. The arguments and thinking were concise: "We have to kill them before they kill us."
Again and again, those who correspond with media dig right in to point out the faults and failures of others. The problem, as framed by most of these writers, almost never involves "I," "we," or "us." Instead, any problems or blame are laid at the feet of "you," "they," or "them."
There is a cavalier abandon about blaming other people, about trivializing their accomplishments and diminishing the value of their work. How often are the jobs done by public servants – whether local, state, or federal – dismissed as nothing? In reality, most people in such positions are hideously overworked because taxpayers don't want to pay for the quality of service they expect.
One area in which there seems to be no shame is that of cutting other people's earnings – sometimes to solve budgetary problems but just as often out of a meanness that argues that the workers under consideration simply aren't worth that much. Making what others regard as a substantial, or even extravagant, income is impossible to defend but easy to attack.
Giving away money that isn't yours and that you weren't involved in earning is easy. One of the things that drives me crazy is when people urge nonprofits and even for-profits to shed sponsors and partners because these objectors either dislike specific businesses or in general find big corporations distasteful. Over the years, I've read too many letters from people urging nonprofits to get rid of their tobacco or beer sponsors or Nike or some other company the letter-writers don't like. The writers always note that they are sure it would be easy to get other sponsors.
Except that it isn't. I've worked with numerous nonprofits, none of which has ever had an easy time finding funding. There is also the abandon with which these purists try to impose their morality on others, as though their standards are unquestionable. I have no issues with alcohol or tobacco advertising, but many will question why the Chronicle runs such ads. It is demanded that, rather than following my beliefs as a standard, I follow the beliefs of others, as they are evidently more right and righteous.
It is easy to cut any budget: Just "trim the fat." Now, folks who have actually had to make, keep, or trim budgets know how impossible it is to do that job. Every budget cut affects someone in some way. Most of these cuts affect many people, often in the most tragic ways. Some citizens insist that rather than raise taxes or fees, which takes the money from "me" and "us," we cut the budget, which takes the money from "them."
I'd argue that most Americans pay less in taxes than they use in government services, but since they never think about the ways the government benefits them, they're sure this isn't true. The beyond-massive spew of federal, state, and local legislation laying out rules, regulations, standards, and the like were not conceived by anti-American, anti-Constitution monsters hiding together in a cave. They came not from Marx, Lenin, Mao, Stalin, Kafka, or "the Other." Instead, they came from us. That's right: you and me – people responding to issues and problems in their lives by pressuring elected officials to deal with them by passing appropriate legislation.
The problems we ask our government to solve range from the consequences of floods, corrupt or broken financial institutions, tragically unsafe working conditions, and forced child labor to the brutal force once routinely exercised to stop workers from organizing. They include difficult, controversial issues around which those representing a number of different and often opposing positions pressure legislators – those involving minorities demanding their civil rights be protected, for example, or those with unwelcome, extreme political voices who want to express their views publicly. This gets even more complex when dealing with the consequences of racial, sex-based, economic, ethnic, and/or religious prejudices.
American citizens usually put federal legislation in a number of categories. The largest is the one they never think about – the huge sums the government spends that affect all of us in one way or another but which are not obvious. Then there is the much more visible "wasteful spending," which has to do with the government's financial commitment to areas that the observers are sure have no effect on their lives but benefit others. Finally, there is "necessary spending": areas that affect their lives or that they believe are important to the nation.
Interestingly, contradictions give most Americans no pause. There are those who don't want national ID cards, who think the government is already way too big and that its sprawling bureaucracies are oppressive but still want it to get rid of the 10 million or more illegal immigrants, as though there is no contradiction. Our conspiracy-hobbyist friends, along with all other manner of radical groups, insist that what is needed is a return to rigid constitutional adherence, with the first step being the Constitution-nullifying killing, imprisonment, or disenfranchisement of some significant group of American citizens.
Alex Jones, in his crusade against the New World Order, offers up pure hatred as part of the solution – he's at least once suggested he'd like to see those involved with the NWO all hanging from lampposts – in supposed pursuit of freedom and constitutional purity. Metaphoric as that comment may have been, the last time I encountered that particular image – the wide-scale lynching of "enemies" – was when reading the racist Turner Diaries. I'm sure in both cases it was implied, though nowhere stated, that those hung would have first received due process.
The following quote from "A" is all too familiar: "Where is the freedom upon which this great land of ours is built? Why, the way things are going, soon there'll be no difference between whether we should be under the domination of a foreign power or under the heel of those bureaucrats in Washington."
In a way, many Americans currently bemoan the same problems: The republic has failed, and the Constitution has been betrayed. Oh my God, we are in the end of days, or at least at the end of the virtuous and pure run of the United States of America. Things are worse now than they've ever been before.
"B" offers a response: "No, any man who lets himself get in a group that makes it a business of hating any other group or race or creed within this nation is a [traitor]." Now that sounds just like me, doesn't it?
More of the same here; let me offer more of the quote from "B" that the above is taken from: "This lesson, that the truly dangerous ... really frightening traitors in our midst are not the men who speak in strange foreign accents and [follow deviant ideologies]. No, any man who lets himself get in a group that makes it a business of hating any other group or race or creed within this nation, is a [traitor]. Any man who practices discrimination in this of all times, who stirs up dissatisfaction and unrest, who blocks our road to victory and peace for his own vicious purposes is a traitor. When the people, the common people, divide, the dictators will conquer them, not before."
Now back to "A" on the abuse of federal power and the intrusion of government into our lives, remembering that according to some, we have fewer rights now than we have ever had before:
"Let me tell you those brass hats in Washington who got us into this disastrous war are not leading this great nation nearer to victory. ...
"They send out pitiful cries of unity. Like so many blind mice, they say that we the people shall be allowed only three gallons of gasoline every week. Two pounds of bacon a week. Rationing of every sort! Where is the freedom upon which this great land of ours is built? Why, the way things are going, soon there'll be no difference between whether we should be under the domination of a foreign power or under the heel of those bureaucrats in Washington."
The quotes from "A" and "B" above are taken from the movie Power of the Press, produced by Columbia in 1943, script by Robert D. Andrews from a story by Samuel Fuller, directed by Lew Landers. It can be found in The Samuel Fuller Collection, the Film Foundation, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and Columbia, 7-DVD set.